Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Unearthed Arcana and Freeport, Part 15--and official 5E Freeport news!

Welcome back to my ongoing series of capsule reviews of "Unearthed Arcana" with an eye for how to use them with the Freeport setting. This column covers UA articles from April to August 2020. From the number of subclasses undergoing repeated revisions over the past year or so, along with the many other character options (like feats) appearing in UA, it seems pretty clear that Wizards of the Coast plans to release another book of player-facing crunch along the lines of Xanathar's Guide to Everything sometime in the near future.

For my past columns about using D&D Fifth Edition sourcebooks with Freeport: The City of Adventure, see the Freeport 5E Index.

Psionic Options Revisited (4/14/2020): This article starts with a discussion of the common elements in past editions' treatments of psionics, and the history of psionics rules in 5E. UA has presented many approaches, including a psionics-focused class, the mystic. However, the R&D team has abandoned that model in favor of creating new subclasses for existing classes. They have also abandoned the Psionics tradition wizard, which was just introduced late last year.

Three psionic archetypes, the psi knight (formerly psychic warrior, for fighters), soulknife (for rogues), and psionic soul (formerly the aberrant soul, for sorcerers), have been revised to share the common idea of a psionic talent die used to measure the ebb and flow of the character's psychic energy reserve. The character receives a d6 that they may add to certain rolls. If this die rolls the higher possible result, the die decreases in size (or, below a d4, is lost until a long rest); on a 1, it increases instead (to the character's maximum size). At higher levels, the psionic talent die increases in size, and the subclasses gains new options to use with the die. In some cases, that is simply additive; in others, the die determines an effect's duration, or the die is rolled only to determine if it changes size.

This seems to be a fairly simple, elegant way to track psionic power, rather than imposing some sort of power point rules, as in most previous editions. Because it is separate from spell slots, a character can be considered psionic without necessarily casting spells.

This column also includes five psionic feats. One is Wild Talent, which lets any character gain access to a psionic talent die. The options for using the die are very limited, but there also four other feats available that give new uses for that die (and have this feat or the psionic talent class feature as a prerequisite).

This UA also includes three psionic spells. These are updates of older material, and there is a note that some playtest spells have been abandoned; many of this latter group became subclass features or feats instead.

Subclasses Revisited (5/12/2020): As with the previous article, this installment presents new iterations of previous offerings: the Phantom subclass for rogues (previously the Revived), the Genie patron for warlocks (previously the Noble Genie), and the Order of Scribes for wizards (previously the Archivist, an artificer subclass).

The Phantom is a killer with a mystical connection to the dead. That connection gives them a bonus proficiency (which can be changed after a rest), and at later levels it can give them a little bit of the luck or knowledge of those who have died near them. When they sneak attack a foe, they can cause ghostly wails to damage a second target. This subclass would be ideal for the assassins of a death cult, or for a haunted loner. It fits in admirably with the horror elements of the Freeport setting.

The Genie is an otherworldly patron from among the nobles of geniekind. Warlocks of this subclass actually take on some of the properties of their genie masters: they start with a genie's vessel, in which they can retreat from the outer world to rest. At later levels, they gain resistance based on their master's element, can take others into their vessel, and eventually gain some limited wish magic. Genie-binders are an established part of Freeport history, both in the construction of the Wizards Guild, and among the efreeti-blooded azhar, and this subclass offers an interesting inversion of that master-servant relationship.

A wizard of the Order of Scribes can create magical quill at will, and instills some limited sentience in his own spellbook. At higher levels, they become expert spell scroll makers, and their spellbook's mind gains new abilities. This subclass seems ideal for a lorekeeper at the Wizard's Guild or an archivist at the Temple of the God of Knowledge.

Feats (7/13/2020): This article presents 16 new feats. Some grant a small taste of another class's abilities (Artificer Initiate, Eldritch Adept, Fighting Initiate, Metamagic Adept, Tracker). Others enhance the use of a skill (Chef, Poisoner, Practiced Expert). Two represent the influence of another plane (Fey Touched, Shadow Touched). The rest give advantages in combat, usually enhancing attacks (Crusher, Gunner, Piercer, Shield Training, Slasher, Tandem Tactician). All of these feats are appropriate for Freeport, though GMs who don't want to use artificers or firearms in their game will need to restrict access to Artificer Initiate and Gunner, respectively. 

Subclasses, Part 4 (8/5/2020): This installment includes just two new subclasses: the College of Spirits for bards and the Undead patron for warlocks. 

The College of Spirits bard regularly contacts spirits from other planes to learn their stories and use the knowledge gained to aid his allies. They gain guidance as a bonus cantrip, and can use certain occult objects (such as a talking board or tarokka deck) as spellcasting foci. They can also spend their Bardic Inspiration die to learn a tale from a spirit, which they can then use to aid an ally or attack an enemy, depending on the result. This features uses a random table of 12 results, giving access to more options as the Bardic Inspiration die increases in size with level. At mid-levels, the bard can perform a seance-like ritual to temporarily learn a spell from any class, within certain limits. This subclass could be used to represent a classic occult medium who speaks with ghosts and angels, a lorekeeping shaman who speaks with his tribe's ancestors and totems, or the priest of an animistic religion who intercedes with the spirits of heaven and hell as well as nature. All of these concepts could easily find a place in the Freeport setting. 

The Undead patron may be an arch-lich, vampire lord, or other powerful, ancient undead entity. At 1st level, in addition to an expanded spell list, the warlock can assume a Form of Dread that grants temporary hp, forces creatures you hit to save or be frightened, and makes the warlock immune to being frightened for a brief time. Later class features include changing damage inflicted to necrotic, exploding upon reaching 0 hp then respawning with 1 hp; and projecting your spirit from your body. Each of these features has heightened effects when the warlock is in their Form of Dread. This patron is highly appropriate for the Freeport setting, which includes many necromancers in its history, such as the Ghoul-Lords who reigned over much of the Continent centuries ago, or--closer to home--Lord Bonewrack. However, necromancy is also one of the very few capital offenses in Freeport, so choose this patron only after consulting with the DM!


Ahoy! Official 5E Freeport News!

Green Ronin has re-released Death in Freeport updated for D&D Fifth Edition! See the announcement on the company blog here, and buy the PDF in the online store here

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